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Shadows Behind The House (Demo)

April 23, 2013

Shadows Behind The House, 9×12, Gouache

We’ve seen a lot of beautiful and interesting places over the past year, but sometimes great subjects just show up in someone’s back yard.  On our way back from last summer’s trip through Pennsylvania and Ohio, we stopped off in Pontotoc, Mississippi.  Pontotoc is home to our artist friend Dot Courson and her husband, Jackie.  You can read about our visit here.  Dot and Jackie were wonderful hosts.  They live on a fair sized piece of property, which is often the setting for workshops.  This painting is from a reference photo taken there.  In fact, their house sits just to the left of the central clump of trees.  I finally got around to working on this painting in the last week or so.  If you want to skip the progress photos, there’s a larger image near the end of this article.

I’ve had some requests recently to post more demo or progress articles.  It so happens I took several photos of this one as it progressed, so here we go…

9×12, Gouache on Bainbridge Cold Press Illustration Board

DaVinci Gouache, Palette: ultramarine blue, yellow ochre, burnt umber, burnt sienna, yellow light (Hansa), titanium white; Brushes: a variety of inexpensive, well-used sable and bristle flats and brights.


Over the last few years, I’ve started paintings in different ways, but I keep thinking of the old saying “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  I always seem to come back to my old ways, beginning with a quick, rough pencil sketch.  And I mean quick and rough, more of a simple scribble actually, that just gives me a feel for composition and mass.  That’s followed by a rough block-in, identifying the darkest areas, the lightest areas, and the strongest color.



The image above is a closeup detail of part of the block-in.  You can see the pencil sketch marks.  The darks in this case are fairly thin, but not transparent.  I have ivory black on my palette occasionally, but I rarely actually use it.  Ultramarine blue and burnt umber make a nice black, and that’s what I’ve used here.  The other color touches are primarily thin transparent strokes at this point.  The sky colors are ultramarine, titanium white, and a touch of burnt sienna.  The yellow at this point is yellow ochre.


Then I start working into a range of values, identifying highlighted and muted passages, and playing with color.  There are times when I want to just stop at this point because I like the way the colors and edges begin to mix, but this is not the finish I had in mind, and, for better or worse, I wanted to pursue this one further.


Continuing to work with color, as well as adding “detail” into the trees and the overhanging branches in the upper right corner.   This stage is a combination of thin paint and more opaque brushstrokes, being ever mindful of the light I want to maintain in the painting.  Varying mixtures of yellow ochre, ultramarine, burnt sienna, and yellow light can produce a range of interesting blues, grays, pinks and even oranges.  Painting continues to be very much a trial and error exercise for me, which is probably why I love it so much.  Occasionally, the finished piece comes close to matching my original vision.


And then I spend time working with the greens.  The light becomes a bit subdued during this process, but I’ll bring it back out in the final stages.


I’ve pulled the light back into the scene, and for now, we’ll call this one finished.  Quite often Nell will say “Stop!”, and sometimes I do listen to her.



Above is an enlarged detail of the upper right corner, showing the brushwork and the way thin and opaque gouache tend to mix together on the painting.


And for those who think they need a big space to do competent painting, I submit this photo of the painting in progress in my indoor studio.  The beauty of gouache is that it washes out of clothes, dries immediately, and can be done on paper or illustration board, which can be stacked in a plastic tub in just a few minutes.  It’s an ideal painting medium for someone who lives and travels in an RV.  I can comfortably paint up to 11×14 here, and if I want to paint larger, I simply set up the easel outside under the awning.  Do I miss having a big studio with lots of “stuff” in it?  Sure I do.  But then we visited the studios of N.C. and Andrew Wyeth in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, and I realized that the ideal studio can never be large enough.  Because I love our lifestyle, I have learned to make this work for me.


Art supplies are, for the most part, stored in this large tackle box.  I do have a small brush wallet that I can carry with me, which holds a few pencils, pens and watercolor brushes, and there is a box of new gouache tubes recently ordered online that is stored in an overhead cabinet.  The Easyl Lite paintbox works indoors as well as outside.  The paintbox, along with some brushes and a few tubes of most used paint colors stay in a backpack when not in use.


When I stop working on a particular piece, and put away the painting gear, this is where the painting/sketch/study goes.  This is the unsigned, unvarnished, often unfinished work..  There is an 11×14 (with the bent corner), but everything else is 9×12 and smaller.  As of this writing, there were close to a hundred pieces of art in this little tub.  Because I’m fairly prolific and Nell won’t let me destroy a piece unless I absolutely despise it , there’s another tub the same size that’s almost as full as this one.  Those pieces are signed, varnished and packaged in reclosable plastic bags, ready to sell.


When we’re in a major city, we’ll visit one of the big art supply stores (Texas Art, Dick Blick, etc.) and stock up on illustration board, usually precut to 20×30.   I have a Dexter mat cutting board and will spend a day cutting boards down to size, trying to maintain about a three month stock of boards ready to use.  And, there is always a stock of several large sheets left uncut and stored in a portfolio in the back of the bedroom closet, just for backup.

We store these little tubs in cubbyholes, cabinets and available small spaces throughout the motorhome.

Hopefully, this gives a little more insight into not only how I paint, but also how I function as an artist while living in a 300 square foot home on wheels.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Pam Staley permalink
    April 23, 2013 4:35 pm

    Hi Ralph,
    Wow. Thanks so much for the work in progress photos today. I just asked about it yesterday. Now I will have a new demo to pour over. You really can’t know how helpful this is. And seeing the pictures of your compact workspace and your tackle box approach to traveling is so appreciated.
    We have rented a house on the ocean up in Northern CA for May and I am frantically trying to get a “kit” together. Your pictures really help me understand what to take which is critical because we will be a ways from any art stores. It will be lots of hiking, painting, birdwatching and communing with nature. We usually take our “redneck” pop up camper, but we are trying out retirement locales to see if they are a fit so I have the luxury of a house and of taking a bit more with me.

    I was so happy to also see your wave painting recently (surf at Mustang Island). I have been looking very closely at it to try to understand the process in preparation for my CA trip.
    You are so inspiring, and I really appreciate how much time you take to share your painting and your travels. Please keep blogging when you can, I just love living life vicariously through your posts.

    Best Wishes,


  2. May 2, 2013 10:03 pm

    What a cool post, thanks, Ralph! Good info and I like this painting a bunch.

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